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Absent unusual circumstances, an injunction is the appropriate remedy for a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act's procedural requirements. Irreparable damage is presumed to flow from a failure properly to evaluate the environmental impact of a major federal action. The same principle applies to procedural violations of the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C.S. §§ 1531-43.
Plaintiff organizations sought to prohibit defendant, the U.S. Forest Service, from constructing a road designed to facilitate timber extraction. The Forest Service prepared an environmental assessment to determine whether an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) would be required for the road. Based on the EA, the Forest Service concluded that no EIS was required, and issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). The decision notice stated that "no known threatened or endangered plant or animal species have been found" within the area, but the EA contained no discussion of endangered species. In their complaint, plaintiffs asserted that NEPA, and regulations issued by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), required the Forest Service to prepare an EIS that analyzed the combined effects of the proposed road and the timber sales that the road was designed to facilitate. The plaintiffs further asserted that the decision to build the road was inconsistent with the National Forest Management Act, 16 U.S.C. §§ 1600-1614, because the cost of the road will exceed the value of the timber that it will access. In addition, the plaintiffs argued that the road was likely to affect the Rocky Mountain Gray Wolf, an endangered species, and the Forest Service has failed to follow procedures mandated by the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. §§ 1531-1543. The district court granted summary judgment for the Forest Service on all claims. Plaintiffs sought review of the decision.
Did the district court err in granting summary judgment for the Forest Service on all claims asserted by the plaintiffs?
The court affirmed the district court's holding that the cost of the road did not have to be exceeded by the timber accessed because other benefits were conferred by the road. However, the district court's decision on the National Environmental Policy Act claim was reversed. Because the road construction and the timber sales were "connected actions" under 40 C.F.R. § 1508.25(a)(1) (1984) and "cumulative actions," defendant was required to prepare an environmental impact statement that analyzed the combined impacts of the road and the timber sales. The court also reversed the district court’s decision regarding the defendant’s failure to make an assessment as to the impact of the project on the endangered gray wolf. According to the court, the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C.S. §§ 1531-43, required defendant to perform a biological assessment as to the project's impact on the gray wolf once it was aware that this species was in the area. Thus, an injunction was to be issued to prohibit the building of the road until such an assessment was performed.